The Doylestown House

a chapter of the exhibition catalogue

"Charles Sheeler in Doylestown: American Modernism and the Pennsylvania Tradition"

by Karen Lucic




1. The most authoritative account of Sheeler's biography is in Troyen and Hirshler, Charles Sheeler.

2. Ben Wolf, Morton Lilvingston Schomberg (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1963), 21.

3- Rourke, Charles Sheeler,.32.

4. Quoted in Rourke, Charles Sheeler, 27-28.

5. Autobiographical notes, AAA, Sheeler Papers, Roll Nsh 1, frame 65.

6. In his autobiographical notes, Sheeler in fact has no praise for any academically trained American artist of the nineteenth century and even criticizes the native school of realist painting. See Sheeler's account of watching Eakins paint, as well as his unfavorable comparisons of Homer, Eakins, and the Hudson River School artists to European old masters. He assesses Ryder's art more neutrally. Ibid., frames .32-33, 125-133.

7. Ibid., frame 48.

8. For a book-length discussion of Mercer's life and work, see Cleota Reed, Henry Chapman Mercer and the Monrovian Pottery and Tile Works (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987).

9. See Rourke, Charles Sheeler 31. According to George M. Craven, who conducted an interview with Sheeler in 1957, Schamberg had introduced Sheeler to early Americana and discovered the house before Sheeler. Schamberg's "interest in small, useful household items of colonial craftsmanship rubbed off, to a great degree, on Sheeler as a result of their close friendship." Craven, "Charles Sheeler, A Self-Inventory in the Machine Age" (term paper. Ohio State University, 1957), in Sheeler Papers, AAA, Roll Nsh 1, frame 160. Sheeler's recollections to Martin Friedman (see below) indicate that he found the house by himself.

10. Charles Sheeler interview by Martin Friedman, 18 June 1959, AAA, Tape 2, pp. 4-6.

11. Joyce P. Barendsen, "'Wallace Nutting, an American Tastemaker: The Pictures and Beyond," Winterthur Portfolio 18 (Summer/Autumn 1983): 195.

12. The most extensive treatment of these artists is in Thomas Folk. The Pennsylvania School of Landscape Painting: An Original American Impressionism (Allentown, Pa.: Allentown Art Museum, 1984). See also an illustration in C. Valentine Kirhy, A Little Journey to the Home of Edward W. Redfield This is Bucks County Series (Doylestown, Pa.: Public Schools of Bucks County, n.d.), unpaged. which shows the interior of Redfield's house. According to the caption in this publication, Redfield made his own gateleg tables and Windsor chairs, modeled on the preindustrial vernacular tradition.

13. "With the arrival of spring we went out into the country around Philadelphia to paint farmhouses in the midst of fields, buildings reflected in the placid water of a canal, or bits of woodland." Quoted in Rourke, Charles Sheeler, 22.

14. According to his own retrospective assessment, the Pennsylvania Academy was a gloomy, uninspiring place because "Redfield was prevalent." Quoted in Wight, "Charles Sheeler," 11.

15. Part of the information on Sheeler's house and his relationship to Henry Chapman Mercer first appeared in an article by Karen [Lucic] Davies, "Charles Sheeler in Doylestown and the Image of Rural Architecture," Arts Magazine 59 (March 1985): 135-39. Sheeler's account of the meeting is as follows: "[Mercer] wasn't interested in painting at.all but he was interested in Americana and he was a pioneer in collecting it in a big way, objects of domestic utility, farm implements... and things like that. He had amassed an enormous collection. Also he built himself an enormous house of concrete, even the window frames were concrete, the whole thing was poured except the roof. And he had a pottery within walking distance of his own castle. Well, somehow we managed to get entree and he was a very delightful person, very outgoing and we were received on first meeting as though we were old friends and so forth. And of course he liked meeting people that had the same interest as he had, namely an acquaintance with Americana.... And this little house that I noticed, it was just in the next large field to his land and I asked him about it, what he knew about it and did he think it might be available for rent and so forth. Well, he couldn't say that but he told me the man's name who was the present owner of the farm. Well, I went over there and asked. Well, first the fellow didn't -- wasn't interested and then I reported that back to Dr. Mercer and -- well, he called him up and said that, well he wished he'd rent it to me as a personal favor to him. Well, he was an uncrowned king and a very benign one but Dr. Mercer sat up on the top of the totem pole in Doylestown in a very, very nice way, always for the good of the town, and being a wealthy man as well as a very intelligent one in his specific interest which contacted mine he was very influential. So the fellow -- before he hung up the fellow had consented to .. . rent it to me just on Dr. Mercer's request." Sheeler interview by Friedman, AAA, Tape 2, pp. 4-5.

16. Bucks County Historical Society, The Mercer Mile (Doylestown, Pa., 1972), 1-3, 7.

17. In a lecture of 1907, he summarized the value of his collection: "Here we have history presented from a new point of view.. .. You may go down into Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and stand in the room in which the Declaration of Independence was signed and there look up at the portraits of the signers. But do you think you are any nearer the essence of the matter there than you are here when you realize that ten hundred thousand arms, seizing upon axes of this type, with an immense amount of labor and effort made it worth while to have a Declaration of Independence by cutting down one of the greatest forests in the North Temperate Zone?.. [A] sight of the actual object conveys an impression otherwise indescribable." Bucks County Historical Society, Mercer Mile, 5-6.

18. Ibid., 5-6, 21-23.

19. During the 1910s and 1920s, Mercer developed a method of dating based on analysis of nails and other hardware. See Henry Chapman Mercer, "The Dating of Old Houses," Bucks County Historical Society Papers 5 (1924; reprint, Doylestown, Pa.: Bucks County Historical Society, 1976).

20. For information about Mercer's markers, see Wilma Rezer, "The Old Worthington House," unpublished manuscript, unpaged, courtesy of Susan and David Mulholland; and Warren S. Ely, "The Old Worthington House," (n.p., c. 1908): 2, in "Miscellaneous Papers Relating to Bucks County," BCHS.

21. Mercer's interest may have inspired the librarian of the Bucks County Historical Society, Warren S. Ely, to research the genealogical associations and local history of the structure. In a six-page pamphlet published about 1908, Ely described the house: "The present stone structure of two and a half stories, with two rooms on the first floor has on the southwest gable a dates tone with the inscription: ']. W. A.' 1768. Representing the initials of Jonathan Worthington, the builder and that of his first wife and the date of erection. At the southwest end of the stone house may be still seen the remains of the ancient log dwelling which antedated the stone structure many years, and has been torn down within the last twenty-five years. The old flat door-step over which the Colonial owner entered his primitive palace is still in place and forming part of the southwestern wall of the present house is the immense fireplace, now open to the elements that was originally enclosed by the log house. The old house with the remnants of its ancient neighbor and parent form an interesting landmark of Colonial times. Over the two outer doors one looking southeasterly and the other northwesterly were quaint little hood roofs supported on timbers secured in the wall and extending out some six feet to form a porch, without pillars, the little peaked shingle-covered roof being entirely supported by the horizontal timbers imbedded in the wall." Ely, "Old Worthington House," 6.

22. For a description of this kind of housing type, see Charlotte Stryker, "The Colonial Architecture of Bucks County, Pennsylvania," unpublished manuscript in BCHS,34.

23. Rezer, "Old Worthington House," unpaged.

24. Compare Steven Conn, "Henry Chapman Mercer and the Search for American History," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 116 (July 1992): 335. My thanks to Nicholas Adams for this source.

25. Ely, "Old Worthington House," 1.

26. Rezer, "Old Worthington House," unpaged; Henry Chapman Mercer to Charles Sheeler, 19 March 1924, BCHS. My thanks go to Susan Fillin- Yeh for providing me with copies of the Mercer/Sheeler correspondence in the Bucks County Historical Society.

27. See Bucks County Deed Book, no. 382, pp. 50-51; no. 408, pp. 480-81; no. 441, p. 348; and no. 534, pp. 84-85, Bucks County Courthouse, Doylestown, Pa.

28. Fillin- Yeh, Charles Sheeler, 12.

29. Mercer to Sheeler, 25 January 1922, BCHS.

30. Sheeler to Mercer, [January 1922], BCHS.

31. Mercer to Sheeler, 19 March 1924, BCHS.

32. Conn, "Henry Chapman Mercer," 344, 348.

33. In 1917, Stieglitz wrote: "New York seems far away and I assure you I don't miss any part of it -- If I never saw it again I don't think I would hear its Call." Stieglitz to Paul Strand, 14 August 1917, Paul Strand Archive; quoted in Naomi Rosenblum, "Paul Strand: The Early Years, 1910-1932" (Ph.D. diss., City University of New York, 1978),53. In a letter to Stieglitz, Strand summed up an attitude surprisingly prevalent in the 1910s and 1920s: "New York a distant and disagreeable ant heap -- everybody crawling over each other.. .. As one travels away from N.Y., one is always finding potentially N.Y.-- its deadness and cheapness, standardized mediocrity -- in towns and towns trying to be cities.... I am sure the Americans have already introduced Coney Island into heaven. It would take more than God and all the saints to stop em." Strand to Stieglitz, 28 November 1926, Alfred Stieglitz Archive, Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University (hereafter BRBML). 34. Charles Sheeler to Walter Arensberg, 28 August [c. 1917-18], Charles Sheeler Papers, Arensberg Archives © Philadelphia Museum of Art (hereafter AA).

35. Sheeler to Stieglitz, 13 June 1917, BRBML. I have found no evidence to indicate that Stieglitz ever accepted Sheeler's invitation.

36. Ibid.

37. For reproductions of this kind of work, see Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., and Norman Keyes, Jr., Charles Sheeler: The Photographs (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1987), figs..3. 10, 11, and 13.

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